Andy Frasco & The U.N.
You can’t miss Andy Frasco. The electric-shock hair. The megawatt charisma. The golden lungs, magic fingers and party-starting songs. When this twenty-something Californian bandleader takes to the stage with The U.N., you’ll get an adrenalin-shot of pure escapism.
This isn’t a show. It’s a street party. You join us on Day 142 of Andy Frasco & The U.N.’s 2016 world tour, and in the sleepy German town of Bamberg, all hell is breaking loose. Fans invade the stage. Tubas are set on fire. And at the eye of the storm, there’s the frontman himself: a wild-haired whirling dervish who spends opening song C Boogie bucking his hips, hammering on his piano keys and dancing in the front row. “We’re recording a live album in your town,” Frasco announces to the crowd. “It’s gonna be awesome…”
That album is Songs From The Road: a new CD/DVD set from Ruf Records that captures all the full-throttle mayhem. There is, quite simply, nothing like an Andy Frasco & The U.N. show. While other bands trudge through the setlist, these renegades rocket-fuel the songs from their four studio albums – including 2016’s breakthrough Happy Bastards – and leave fans with mile-wide grins. “Basically, we’re trying to freak people out,” explains Frasco. “I want people to be spiritually uplifted and happy – and also make them think a little bit.”
Live bands don’t get this good overnight. Frasco’s own story goes back to the suburbs of post-millennial Los Angeles, where at the tender age of 13, he used his industrial-strength charm to blag a job as a record label executive, fitting maths classes around business calls. Aged just 16, he was touring the States with one of his signings. “I grew up too quick,” he reflects. “I fell in love with the road and I just kept going. Failure was not an option for me.”
In his early years as a hype man, Frasco always had charisma in spades, but he’ll admit that he “bullshitted my way til I finally learned how to sing and play piano”. In 2007, he pulled together The U.N. from the cream of the international scene and set out on a world tour that has never really ended. “This band is a group of gypsies,” he says. “We’ve been living in a van for ten years straight, doing 250 shows a year. That’s really not the norm. We’re basically blue-collar musicians, on the road every day, making a living. We might be sleeping on guitar cases, guitar amps, someone’s floor – but we’re happy. We’re fulfilling our dream.
“The Van Morrisons and The Bands of this world,” he continues, “in the early years, they’d play in every coffee shop and grungy bar, y’know, getting pink eye from a dirty couch. But you’re gonna have to deal with all that for the bigger purpose. And the bigger purpose is about trying to make people happy, as much as you can.”
Since the release of 2016’s Happy Bastards, everyone wants a piece of them. With material that took in funk, soul, rock, roots and the band’s self-styled “party blues”, this was an album that you knew would sound amazing live. Sure enough, as The U.N. take the stage in Bamberg, songs like the funky Tie You Up and the stomp singalong of Mature As Fuck have never sounded better. “That song is basically about doing stuff for yourself and not worrying what other people think of you,” explains Frasco, “because you’re a grown-ass man.”
You’ll also find highlights from The U.N.’s back catalogue, with Frasco revisiting his acclaimed 2014 album Half A Man for songs like Sunny Day Soldier and Stop Fucking Around. “I don’t have a setlist,” he says. “I like to see who the audience is. Big influences of mine as a frontman are the Frank Sinatras and the James Browns, and how they controlled the show.”
And Frasco certainly does that. As night falls in Bamberg, his megawatt energy only seems to crank up, whether he’s leaping onto the monitors, bringing local kids onstage to dance or directing the crowd to either side of the town square (“Left! Right!”). At last, just when it seems the performance can’t get any more anarchic, the band pulls out a bristling cover of Rage Against The Machine’s classic Killing In The Name, with Frasco encouraging the crowd to raise their middle fingers in defiance. “Be whoever you want to be,” he tells them as a parting shot. “Now let’s get the fuck out of here…”
If you haven’t seen Andy Frasco & The U.N. on the stage yet, you’re missing one of the great live bands of our times. But with Songs From The Road, you get a front-row seat. “I try to make our live shows a celebration,” says Frasco. “We’re just trying to get people out of their heads for a couple hours and live in the moment. I feel like Songs From The Road emulates what our band really is, better than any recording we've done to date.”